Season 3 Finale
The celebration continues with Episode 74 of The Unique CPA, live from The Beer Temple in Chicago. On part 2 of this three-part series, Randy talks to Dawn Brolin of Powerful Accounting and The Motivation Movement, author of The Designated Motivator for Accounting Professionals and two-time “40 Under 40” award recipient from Accounting Today, and previous Unique CPA guest Josh Lance of Lance CPA Group and Ignition, who has won the same award five times.
Alright, well, welcome back. We’re in the second segment of the live version of The Unique CPA podcast. I can’t believe we’re through one segment already. I’m having too much fun for this to end—it feels like I’m getting too close to the end already! But we now are joined by two new guests, Dawn Brolin and Josh Lance. I’ll introduce one, you can introduce the other. You want Josh?
Alright. Make sure you talk loud!
Who am I introducing?
You’re gonna go Josh but I’m gonna go Dawn first.
Alright, go for it.
Alright. So Dawn Brolin, I met Dawn for the first time in June, Dawn?
In June, and just hit it off immediately. Dawn is one of the most fun people and most energetic people, and interesting people, you’re ever going to meet. You’re going to hear this in a minute. And her title is “the designated motivator.” She has two books under that title—The Designated Motivator and The Designated Motivator for Accounting Professionals.
That is correct.
Alright. And so that’s what she does. And she is so much fun. But in addition to that she does have her own firm called Powerful Accounting.
“Powerful.” Not “poe-erful” (having fun with Randy’s Chicago accent), it’s “powerful.”
Did I say that word wrong?
You said “poe-erful.”
From now on, it’s “Po-erful Accounting with…”
Edgar Allan Poe-erful Accounting.
But it’s powered by Team Brolin.
Right. Do you want me to do my own? I mean, I could help you.
Dawn brings a lot of flavor to a conversation—and sizzle.
So she’s not the vapors, she is the steak?
No, no, no. She’s not the steak. You know this. Josh is the steak. I’m supposed to be introducing Josh, right? This is the lead-in.
Yeah, so that being said, I’m going to kick it over to you but believe me, this is gonna be, with these two out there, it’s going to be a great session.
Dawn of Poe-erful Accounting. Okay. So Dawn, I would liken her to the sizzle in this situation, of the sizzle and steak that we have. This guest duo is the sizzle and steak.
So Josh brings the meat, right? Josh isn’t as enigmatic, and you know, he doesn’t have that power that—the “poe-er,” that Dawn brings to it. Josh, is contemplative, but Josh has also won, you know, Dawn won “40 Under 40” as well, in her 39th year.
And “Top 100 Most Influential in Accounting!”
Josh has won “40 Under 40” five years and counting
Five or six, Josh?
Five years and counting.
It’s your last year of eligibility, right?
That’s right. Yeah.
So is “I” gonna be your initial? You did “Ignition,” you did “Industry,” is “I” going to be your initial for the segment?
So it was “T I.” I wonder what the next one’s gonna be? We’re gonna spell out a word, and acronym.
We’ll get there.
We’ll figure it out. So we’re in the “I”s now. So Josh is an “elite.” in this industry—
That’s with an “E.”
I’m enunciating it like an “I,” right? I don’t know how to spell my words and letters. This is great. I’m so glad to have both y’all here.
So can I give one more introduction to Josh? Josh was just named by Accounting Today as Managing Partner Elite. And there’s what, about ten people they name every year?
I already said “elite.”
You didn’t say “Managing Partner Elite!” You didn’t say “Accounting Today!” I was reading that and I go, “Holy cow. Our podcast just went through the roof! Because now we got Josh Lance and he committed before he got this gigantic award.” I’m surprised you didn’t turn us away and say “No, I can no longer do this. I need like, a million dollar appearance fee.”
That’s right, that’s right. I’ll bill you for it, it’s fine.
Alright. Well, I appreciate you both being here. So there are so many topics the two of you can talk about, because you are so influential. You are so—everything you do motivates people, at both ends.
And so one thing I do want to talk about and Dawn, let’s start with you, is this whole motivation, this “designated motivator” concept. Give us a little—what is this? Where does it come from, and what do you do with it?
It’s just insane, to be totally honest with you. I have no idea. You know, I just I had a great experience with a softball team. And if you’ve ever seen any of my material, softball’s where it’s at, you know. But I realized over this experience of coaching with college athletes, that it’s really about how you can motivate them and get within their soul, and dig deep, and relate with them, and be genuine about it—you can pull things out of people that they never knew they could accomplish.
And I think the reason why I wrote the book, The Designated Motivator for Accounting Professionals, was because I’m like, “You know what, I want to inspire and motivate other practitioners,” and I’m just gonna say this, sorry, to get their s*** together, right?
Beep! So I want that. I want them to figure out, like, what are they passionate about? What do they love so much within their, you know, profession. And it’s okay to pick tax. It’s okay to pick advisory. It’s okay to pick an industry like Josh has. Like, it’s okay to have a niche practice. I say “niche” (“neesh”) because I feel French.
I’m “niche” (nitch) but everybody else is “niche” (neesh) I guess.
Nitch, neesh, nosh, whatever. But I feel like, at the end of the day, we as accounting professionals have had this kind of like, standard of, you know, you guys are all smart with ERC and R&D, you know, XYZ and whatever. But really, at the end of the day, whatever it is you’re passionate about, I want to help people get there. And it’s okay, whatever that path is.
That’s awesome. That is—that is a topic that I talk about all the time, passion. Because if you’re not doing something you’re passionate about, I mean, if you have the ability to figure that out and go down that path—and even if it’s less money, whatever it is—but you’re just gonna have so much more fun if you’re doing something you enjoy. And I’m going to segue from that and we’re going to talk to Josh for a second.
Only a second.
Okay. So speaking of passion, or at least niche (nitch), or niche (neesh)—you’re gonna have to teach me how to speak French.
I know. That’s the only word I know.
There’s a vertical.
It’s that sort of thing.
Yeah, industry verticals.
Yeah, I guess that’s nitch—neetch. I can’t even say it now. You got me all messed up.
Alright. So Josh and I met for the first—well, we met in person for the first time yesterday and I’ve known Josh, it feels like forever.
But that first time we met, Josh was about the third or fourth guest on the show. And I actually think—did Tim Jipping introduce us?
He did, yeah!
Tim got you on the show.
Shout out, Tim.
Tim got you involved in all this stuff. But what I found so interesting, and we’re at The Beer Temple, today is your—say the word for me?
Your “neesh” is—one of them, you really have two—is craft breweries. And Dawn, you’ve messed me up. I can’t even say nitch or neesh anymore! You played with my head, didn’t you? Did you hypnotize me?
Dawn of the Dead. From Dusk Till Dawn.
So Josh, let’s talk about… nitch. And why you did that. Why it’s a passion and what do you get from just not being a generalist, but being a specialist in one industry?
Yeah, I mean, I think for me, when I started my practice, I knew I wanted to focus on an industry. I was a home brewer, home winemaker, and when I started my practice, craft beer was becoming a thing here in Chicago. And I was like, H”ey, like this is, this is a good match here.” But I also knew that like, when you are deep in an industry, deep in a vertical, right, like, you gain so much more, and you can do so much more for your clients.
And so I started a practice, you know, focusing on craft breweries and all these craft breweries that were starting up, saying, “Hey, I can help you out and take care of you guys.” And I got real deep in that industry. And I think that’s been really important for our success in our firm because we’ve established ourselves as a leader in the industry. We’ve gained all this knowledge through going to industry conferences, and learned everything we can about craft brewing from the type of equipment you’re using and styles, and how you brew, and like that gives us that knowledge to really connect with our clients, and build a practice that, you know, breweries want to come to us and say, “Yeah, I want to work with you because you know what you’re talking about, and you understand us better than anyone else.”
Yeah, that’s awesome. And that knowledge is huge. Because like you said, you know, their industry. It’s not, I mean, when I was in practice, I was a generalist, and I’ve dealt with all different kinds of businesses. Man, I look back now I’m like, “Why didn’t I know Josh?” Well, I’m glad I didn’t because I would have stayed in Public, and being a specialist now, I love it so much more. But you could have taught me a lot 20 years ago.
Alright, so part of what you do that niche (nitch), being that expert—I said it. I didn’t even hesitate!
Stop looking at me!
No! You’re in my head, Dawn—you are in my head. This is never going away at this point.
But so that niche—yes, I’m on a roll now.
Proud of you.
But both of you have a really strong use of technology in your firms, and I know that’s a big thing. And Dawn, you and I were talking about it—you love the way you’ve got things set up and the automation. You want to give us a little idea of how you’re doing it, what it is, and how beneficial it is?
Yeah, I think really at the end of the day as a firm—and I’m a small firm—like, so we, you know, there’s three of us, like that’s small. It’s even kind of teeny, right?
A micro firm. A nano firrm.
A nano firm.
There’s nano breweries, so we’re perfect.
It’s the same thing. And so I just looked at it like, listen, I had ten employees at one point, and it was human torture. I felt like it was torture—for me. Like, I feel like I’m a leader, but I’m not really patient. So that’s not a great combination. So I’ve decided to take the technology and implement the technology, not to replace people, like we’re all gonna become robots. Like, that’s not the thing. But just that there’s tasks, and there’s processes that you can implement and put in place, and then by doing that, it allows you to have a life outside of the office—which I mean, I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve had the badge of 80 hours, and I thought I was cool kid. You know, I was an idiot. Yeah, me too. You know, it’s like, who can’t sit in your office and sit there for 80—I mean, anyone can sit somewhere for 80 hours. I mean, it’s better than jail time.
So, you know, I just looked at it that I want to implement the technology. And every firm needs the same technology to run a practice, and so I figured it out three years ago, and it allows me to volunteer coach. Like I’m passionate. It allows me to go visit my daughter for five days, which I’m doing because I want to be able to do that stuff. I can’t do that if I’m always having to be on point. I’ve always got to be in the office to manage things. Because the desktop, by the way, is the new ball and chain. It used to be a husband or wife—by the way, it wasn’t always the wife, the husband, typically.
You go from prison, to then ball and chain, and now domestic house, and the ball and chain at the office.
This is a summary. We can get into more detail, maybe, another time.
Go deeper in the niche.
We got plenty of time still.
In the nitch.
The nitch! Thank you!
Our niche too. There are firms that focus on prisons.
Yeah, right. So you focus on breweries, I’m focused on prisons. And I mean, I know if I go to jail ever, I will run that place. I will 100% run that.
Dawn will own the courtyard. Sleeves rolled up.
She will motivate them though . I don’t know how you’re gonna motivate them, to escape, or…
We will have a plan.
So part of that though, you wrote The Designated Motivator, and then The Designated Motivator for Accounting Professionals.
So that’s part of your niche. Like if we’re gonna go back and pivot back to the niches, like your niche, and you have another target market of audience, and people that you can help, because there are people that are like you, right? Like, Josh, you like craft brewery, you like beers. So it’s your interest. So finding a niche and finding something that you can relate to means your audience is you in a way, right?
Oh, 100%. it’s like, my whole life has changed, right? When I started I was—can I say another bad word?
You can. Mark will beep it later.
Let’s just say I did everything for money, then you can you decipher that. Like when I first started my bookkeeping business, I kind of did whatever service was needed to make money.
I was gonna use a different word, but that’s a nicer one. But I think, you know, finding a niche where you’re like, “I’m really good at this. I’m passionate about this. I love it.” The money is gonna follow that passion. Always follow it. Right, Josh?
That’s right. That’s exactly right. You have that passion that flows through you, like your clients see it, your prospective clients see it. Like, it’s not hard to get clients in the door at that point, because you have just that passion that you deliver throughout everything that you do. And people talk about you and they talk to their brewer friends, or whoever, what industry they’re in, right? And like, you become known in that. I think it’s important to have that passion in what you’re doing. Otherwise, it’s not going to be fun. It’s not gonna be worthwhile to your success in building whatever you want to build.
Well, I think that’s important too. Because like you said, like being the best in an area—like you’re the best at brewery—people recognize that. When you become that thought leader, you become that leader in that industry or that area—like I love IRS representation, whatever it may be—
—Wait, you love IRS representation?
I love it.
Alright, alright, that’s an “I” word. Keep going.
No, I’m just so, like finding a niche like that. You now people will talk about you because you’re the guy, right? A brewery—Josh. Oh, that’s Josh Lance. He’s the guy. And so your colleagues will start referring you to people and that’s probably—
That’s probably about right. Yeah.
I just referred somebody to Josh because I knew he was the brewery guy, and they’re a brewery that I know needed help and hopefully, they’re not too messed up for him to help.
And hopefully for your listeners, if you have any ERC or specialty tax, find Tri-Merit. I’m inserting the ad right there.
We are sponsored by Tri-Merit, the Specialty Tax Professionals.
Alright, so Josh, tell me more about tech then with you. Because tech makes like Dawn said, it allows her to go coach softball, which is her passion, and motivate these players, which I’d love to even go more deep in that story, because it’s unbelievable.
We’ll do that another day.
But tech for you, how do you do it? Is there a certain tech you use more than another? How’s it—it makes you more efficient?
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s like when you’re niched in the industry, and you like, get real deep in it, right? You know, the tools that people in your industry are using, right? And whether it’s the tools they use to manage their brewery production, or the things that are used to sell through wholesale or anything like that, right? You get to know that stuff, and kind of incorporate that into your own tech stack. So, you know, as we built our firm over the last seven years, we’ve incorporated a bunch of different tech stack elements that we found and bring together. So when we do work with a new brewery, or a brewery that’s struggling, trying to get their stuff together, because they’re a mess, right? It’s like, we know exactly what you need to do in order to get this right, get the right information, run a better business, you know, be more knowledgeable as an owner and have the information you need to succeed. So, you know, having that tech stack setup, and the tech stack we have set up for our brewery clients, right, we’ve kind of vetted and worked through over time, and made sure it worked and made sense for their type of business.
And that’s helpful too, because a lot of times, you know, brewery owners, they love to brew beer, but they don’t know the first thing when it comes to tech, and they need help, right? And so to have us be like, not only can help with accounting or tax, we can help with your tech stack and figure out systems even implement, here’s what you need to do, how you connect things together, becomes even more critical. It’s a great way to just advise your clients too and they gain so much from that as well. And they see that oh, yeah, you know, you’re talking about when you’re talking about these random apps that we use for you know, brewing beer or recipe formulation. You know, that stuff and that connects to the accountant. That’s huge. And that’s the right way to engineer.
That expert. I love that. That’s passion we’re talking about? Huge for me. Niche? Huge for me. Yes, Scott?
I got another “P”—”passion.” You guys speak on passion. But I want to hear, what about your purpose. Dawn?
Okay. In which area—my professional or personal life? Because it’s different.
Professional and personal.
Actually, it’s the same.
It is the same. That’s my point!
I’m pivoting from “T.” We’re “tip” now. So we went from “T” to “I” to “P.” I can go on with “P”s all day.
Well, yeah, I think that you have to have passion in what you do. Like, you have to have this purpose—this purpose of fulfilling something. And what is that? My purpose has never been money. My purpose has always been—not that I’m awesome at anything, right? I don’t even know. But I’ve always wanted to leave people better than I found them. I don’t always do that, but that’s what I strive for. My purpose is, can I improve one client’s life? Can I improve one player’s life? Can I improve my family’s life? I don’t know. Ask Emily. She’s watching.
So what’s your purpose? And what’s your passion? I think for me, I’m the same person, whether I’m sitting here with you, whether I’m at home, I’m talking to a client, I’m talking to an IRS rep—those guys, I don’t even care, I’ll take them, I will kill them. I won’t. I won’t. Take that out.
So that’s another word that comes up when I speak to Dawn is she’s very authentic in all aspects of her life.
She doesn’t change.
But when you find that you’re awesome. In all aspects. I know you say you’re not awesome at anything, but you can be awesome at you. Right?
Like you can be—you’re awesome. You.
Yeah. And I think really, at the end of the day, it’s so, it’s true. Like, my whole thing is you never know when you encounter another person, whether it’s on the phone, in person, even just going to the gas station or grabbing a Gatorade, whatever. You don’t know what that person—what has happened to them the moment before you got there. It could have been a moment, it could have been that person’s day was awesome. And then all of a sudden, that moment, something in their life changed. Now you come along—are you going to help that person have a better experience? Or are you going to just be like everybody else and be like just pay your, here’s my two bucks, take your Gatorade and go to your car. Look at them smile at them say H”ey, I hope you have a great day,” like and I’m not saying I always do that, but I try.
You do do that. I’ve seen it, in the month I’ve known you I’ve seen it all the time. And it’s unbelievable.
That’s gratitude for everybody’s job and everything that they’re doing. You show appreciation in that then all of a sudden, it’s contagious.
Yeah, and I think, and clients appreciate that. Like they want you to be genuine, right? They don’t want you to be this fake person and, “Oh, I’m all professional here,” and they’re like, listen, I wear pants during the day sometimes even like that’s how professional I become.
I hope so! You’re gonna walk around with no pants?
Well, Zoom has encouraged no pants.
Am I the only one in shorts right now?
Yeah, we’re professional.
And I’m not?
And Josh, about being genuine to your clients—and they know if you’re not.
Right, exactly. Yeah, I mean, having that kind of purpose and passion of what you do and how you connect to your clients becomes important because they, as much as we care about our clients, they care about us as well, and the wellbeing of our firm, right. And when I started my practice, my purpose was really around being home for family and not working crazy hours, and like, getting out of that kind of rat race of public accounting that I was used to, and having a firm that I enjoyed being a part of. I worked at a large firm for seven years, 80 hour week, seven days a week all the time, right. And I was on the road 80% of the time, like, I didn’t want to do that anymore.
Since I’ve known you, too, like you designed your firm designed, your life, around your desired outcome.
Yeah, that’s right.
And it’s, it’s beautiful. I mean, you’re living your best life, in that way.
And it’s like, you know, like, I think for a lot of people who start their firms, you start a business, like you do it, because there’s some purpose behind what you want to accomplish. For me, it was never about money, like Dawn said, right? Like, it was like, I want to be at home with my family and see my kids grow up and not be in some hotel room and some town wherever and not see my family.
Now I feel bad. I’m in a hotel room tonight.
Yeah, well, you’re with your family I’m sure plenty, and your family appreciates you Scott.
I live with my family.
Well, that’s true. So let’s talk about that for just a few minutes, we’re gonna have to wrap up. But part of the way—you and I have talked about this before, and you kind of mentioned it here, the whole the way you built it, and you want to have the family life and all that. And you don’t have a lot of trouble finding employees, do you? I mean, we’ve talked about that before.
Right and yeah, I think that same purpose I have, it’s the purpose my employees have. Like, we have a lot of employees who they work, public accounting, and they worked in corporate settings. And they didn’t want to do that anymore, right? They wanted to be with their families, they wanted to have a more flexible schedule. And so when you’re able to offer that and offer that kind of alternative way of doing work, you get to attract really great people from that process. And, you know, we’ve been virtual for over seven years now, and it’s, there’s a lot of people who like they wanted that a long time ago, we’re able to provide that for them.
So Scott is pointing out every “P” word that you said.
So just one other follow up question on that, then. In this article I just read in Accounting Today, and you are like, the most awesome person.
You have some structure in place where you’re like, trying to give everybody ownership in the firm, or something?
That’s right, yeah.
And what’s that?
I mean, that was something that I wanted to do when I first started the firm, was not have a traditional partnership structure and deal with all that, because I saw the pain that was when I knew partners in the firm I was at, and I always want to have employees have ownership in this. And my goal at the end of this is not to own this forever. It’s like, hey, let’s give this to the employees and the people who are doing the work, who engage with, you know, our clients and are doing that day in and day out stuff.
And so we started down that path, we have a plan where once you’re with the firm for four years are eligible. And so we have a you know, myself, my partner who have been with the firm, almost since the beginning. And we have another employee now who’s an owner, and we are gonna have two more that are going to be owners here shortly. So it’s really exciting to kind of give them that piece and they get te say hey, what does this all mean, and the benefits of that, and I’m really excited.
So it’s not really like a true ESOP structure, right?
Right. It’s they’re direct owners into the company.
That’s great. I think that’s great. We’re going to need to wrap up here in a few minutes. And again, awesome conversation. Dawn, do you want to motivate us before we close out here?
Oh, absolutely. I mean, let’s be real, I’m not going to rap like my guy over here Scott because—
No, you’re gonna wrap with a “W.”
The W, that’s right, wrap it up. The one thing I’m a little disappointed about here tonight is that my feet don’t reach the floor. But that’s, you know, I understand.
That’s not our problem.
It’s not your problem. It’s my problem, and that’s okay. But I guess for me, it’s like, I want firms to—I want people especially, like I’m a small firm. I’m three people. For those smaller firms, not that not you’re growing, which is awesome. Josh, you got guts, man. To grow a firm, if you’re a small firm, that’s okay. Like, understand that, if that’s what your passion is, if you want to grow, that’s also okay. You can like, I’m at a point in my firm where I just want the three of us and we’re gonna, you know, walk into the horizon together and whatever but
The “Dawn.” “From Dusk Till Dawn.”
I will tell you one thing I want to tee up real quick, is Randy has a presentation that I have not seen yet, but I have heard bits and pieces about having a work-life balance, which that’s the dumbest kind of summary, but just being able to live your life and live it right. And it took me a long time to get there. But I feel like I’m approaching, like, having that happiness of work-life balance, and I know Randy, I can’t wait to see that keynote that you’re going to be doing all across the country.
Well I’ll do that right now if you want. If you’ve got fifteen minutes. No, we’re gonna skip that.
Well I’m honored to be here. And I want to thank you for having me. Josh, he’s a great partner. We’re great together.
P for partner! Let me see, I’ll tell you the title of that presentation. I’m starting to do—it’s called “Mental Health Awareness Beyond Burnout,” because burnout is a huge thing in this industry. So we’re talking about that. So I’m really excited that I get to do this. Thank you, Dawn, for pointing that out. Thank you, too, for being—you are not second. You are first, you’re just second in the group of guests.
You’re the premiere guests, but don’t tell the others.
We’re the powerful guests.
And the poe-erful guests.
Not the poo-erful or whatever you said.
I did not say that! Well, again, thanks for being here. We are going to take another five minute break. And we will be back after that.
This episode has been brought to you by the letter “T,” “I,” and “P.”
Well I’m going to tip the bartender. Alright, thanks. We’ll be right back.
About the Guest
Randy’s guests for part 2 of the Season 3 Celebration included:
- Dawn Brolin, CEO of Powerful Accounting, LLC, and author of The Designated Motivator for Accounting Professionals
- Josh Lance, Managing Director of Lance CPA Group and Head of Accounting at Ignition.
Randy was joined by co-host Scott Scarano, owner, Padgett Business Services of North Carolina, and host of the Sons of CPAs podcast.
Meet the Host
Randy Crabtree, CPA
Randy Crabtree, co-founder and partner of Tri-Merit Specialty Tax Professionals, is a widely followed author, lecturer and podcast host for the accounting profession.
Since 2019, he has hosted the bi-weekly “The Unique CPA,” podcast, which ranks among the world’s 5% most popular programs (Source: Listen Score). You can find articles from Randy in Accounting Today’s Voices column, the AICPA Tax Adviser (Tax-saving opportunities for the housing and construction industries) and he is a regular presenter at conferences and virtual training events hosted by CPAmerica, Prime Global, Leading Edge Alliance (LEA), Allinial Global and several state CPA societies. Crabtree also provides continuing professional education to top 100 CPA firms across the country.
Schaumberg, Illinois-based Tri-Merit is a niche professional services firm that specializes in helping CPAs and their clients benefit from R&D tax credits, cost segregation, the energy efficient commercial buildings deduction (179D), the energy efficient home credit (45L) and the employee retention credit (ERC).
Prior to joining Tri-Merit, Crabtree was managing partner of a CPA firm in the greater Chicago area. He has more than 30 years of public accounting and tax consulting experience in a wide variety of industries, and has worked closely with top executives to help them optimize their tax planning strategies.